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Religious delegation plays role in release of American hikers
American religious leaders with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, far left, on Saturday.
September 21st, 2011
04:50 PM ET

Religious delegation plays role in release of American hikers

From Stan Wilson, CNN

(CNN) - When a prominent group of American Muslim and Christian leaders returned to Washington Monday after meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and top clerical leaders during a six-day visit to Iran, they expressed optimism that two American hikers would be released within a few days.

On Wednesday, their hopes were realized when Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were escorted out of Evin prison in Tehran after more than two years behind bars.

"We were very happy to learn about their release today," said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), who visited Tehran last week as part of a religious delegation.. "We are extremely happy for the hikers, their families and the country."

Awad said his delegation met with Ahmadinejad and Swiss Embassy officials in New York Tuesday and received reassurances of an impending release. Ahmadinejad is in New York to address the United Nations General Assembly.

"Our goal has been to foster interfaith ties, build a system of understanding and ask the Iranian leadership to show compassion and mercy for the American hikers by allowing them to come home," said Awad.

The American delegation also included Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington; the Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane, Episcopal bishop of Washington and Interim Dean of Washington National Cathedral; and former North Carolina State Sen. Larry Shaw, said Awad.

"The delegation was informed by the Iranian authorities that its work prior to this trip and during its current stay in Iran was very helpful and important in the decision to release the hikers," according to a CAIR statement released Sunday. Awad told CNN the delegation traveled to Tehran at the invitation of Ahmadinejad.

The appeal for the release of Bauer and Fattal began with a series of personal letters addressed to Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders in September 2010, CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said.

In May, boxing legend Muhammad Ali joined more than a dozen prominent Muslim American and various interfaith leaders - including CAIR - at a news conference in Washington to publicly ask for the release of the two hikers.

Their appeal to the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khameni, was endorsed by the group, which has maintained a dialogue with clerical leaders in Iran, said Awad.

As Ali, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, sat motionless in a chair surrounded by Muslim community leaders, his wife, Lonnie Ali, spoke for him."Regardless of how things are going between the U.S. and Iran, the people of Iran are good people in their hearts and I can assure you they love this man. And based on that compassion, the love of Allah and the love of Muhammad, we ask for their release - their compassionate release," she said.

On the weekend of August 28, as Hurricane Irene made landfall in New York, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad received an urgent summons by the office of Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, according to CAIR spokesman Hooper. "They wanted us to prepare for the visa process because of potential developments in the American hikers," he said. All major airports in the Northeast were shut down by weather, and Awad drove from Washington to New York through treachourous conditions, said Hooper.

Last week, Awad and three other members of the delegation boarded a flight to Tehran with a stop in Istanbul, Turkey. Their visit included meetings with Iranian religious scholars and leaders in the holy city of Qom and a meeting on Saturday with Ahmadinejad, said Awad.

"We can only hope the two men are freed soon on humanitarian grounds and that our visit fosters a better dialogue between Iranian and American leaders of faith," Awad said Sunday. The delegation was granted permission by government officials to visit Baur and Fattal in prison on Sunday but their request was postponed, said Awad.

The delegation also met with family members of Iranian citizens held in the United States, Awad said, adding that government officials there emphasized the need to work more effectively at "securing the freedom of Iranians in American jails. "There are 60 Iranian detainees in America and we should not forget them. The American government should show the same compassion for these people," he said.

"There was always a feeling that something could go wrong (before the release) because at the end of the day interfaith diplomacy is all about hope," said Awad.. "Today our hope was realized."

Fattal and Bauer, along a third hiker, Sarah Shourd, were arrested and taken into custody along the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009 and charged with espionage. Bauer and Fattal, both 29, were tried and sentenced last month to three years each for illegal entry into Iran and five years each for spying for the United States. Shourd was freed last year on medical grounds.

The United States has no formal diplomatic relations with Iran, and Awad's delegation coordinated its meetings with Swiss Embassy officials, Awad said. "We commend the Swiss for their assistance throughout this process," he added.

The American hikers said they accidentally crossed into Iran when they veered off a dirt road while hiking near a sight-seeing area in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. They have denied spying charges.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Iran • Islam

soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. foreman58

    They should have left them there. Idiots !!!!

    September 26, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  2. notdone

    OH now I know where they go next for a pleasurable hike, they will be delivering bibles to Somalia!!

    September 26, 2011 at 7:57 am |
  3. Altee11

    Well thanks should be given to all who helped secure Bauer and Fattal, but please do not serve as Iran's lobbyists. The leadership there is clearly thug-based and kills any dissenters. That's brutal and sets a bad example for the world. It is critical for the USA to maintain strength to keep this very tough leadership in check.

    September 26, 2011 at 1:46 am |
  4. Altee11

    Ahmadenijad is a holocaust denier. He tries to ruin Agfhanistan. He tries to destroy Israel. Does he deserve the respect to have Americans lobby on behalf of his government for the release of prisioners?

    September 26, 2011 at 1:26 am |
  5. Altee11

    We paid a $1 million dollar ransom to rescue hikers. Iran has hired Fattal, Awad and Bauer to be lobbyists for the release of 60 Iranians who are enemies of our state. Is that correct?

    September 26, 2011 at 1:22 am |
  6. Altee11

    How can Nihad Awad compare Fattal and Bauer to the Iranians jailed here. Awad had some deep thinking to do. We know nothing about the 60 Iranians; prove they are improvised incorrectly.

    September 26, 2011 at 1:14 am |
  7. hippypoet

    Religious delegation ...thats an oxi-moron!

    September 22, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  8. Jimtanker

    What a bunch of BS. They paid a million dollars each to get them out of there. That had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with money.

    September 22, 2011 at 3:30 am |
  9. Bo

    A Christian man who has had a deep faith in God has had some absolutly amazing experiences in his faith. One day he meets a godless man who seems nice enough, so the Christian begains to tell of the blessings he has recieved. (Insead of keeping his "pearls" safe, he, figuretivly, "casts them fefore swine.) The godless man instead of apperciating the gesture, turns and ridicules, laughs and mocks, calling the Christian Insulting names. The Christian knew then what Jesus meant. Matthew 7:6 "Do not give what is sacred to dogs, do not throw your holy gifts to the pigs, because they will only turn and attack you and try to kill you.

    September 22, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • Mathilda

      Bo, that's the exact picture of American atheists! How accurate!

      September 22, 2011 at 1:10 am |
    • Jimtanker

      So if an atheist is a good person and gives to charity and helps people out he will never get into heaven because he doesnt believe in something that has no evidence for its existance? But a rapist or a murderer who has "found god" will get in? That is a place that I dont want to be in.

      September 22, 2011 at 3:32 am |
    • Kebos

      I'm an atheist. I give charity and assistance to others. I won't get into heaven. That doesn't bother me for two reasons. First, this world is my heaven. I live in a world that I enjoy every day. Even during the bad days. Second, there is no heaven and there is no afterlife. To think there is such a thing is a ridiculous notion that belongs in the same group as Santa Claus, Easter Bunny and their ilk.

      September 22, 2011 at 7:36 am |
    • John Richardson

      Ah, another self pity party from Bo.

      September 22, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • TCS

      Jimtanker, Kebos has it correct. You can be a good person and give to charity and all that other jazz, but if you don't acknowledge and love God, why would you want to even go to heaven? Heaven is being one with God in His presence. If you don't love Him, you won't want to be in His presence and reject Him. God is all loving and forgiving and even if a murderer is truly sorry for his sins and wants to love and be with God, then he will get into heaven.
      Kebos at the very least gets that. He wants nothing to do with God at all and just doesn't give a damn.

      September 26, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  10. Mathilda

    Christians took down militant atheism and liberated the oppressed in atheistic nations two decades ago. This time Muslims and Tibetans will be liberated by Christians.

    September 21, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      blah blah blah blah...typical of you and your delusions to turn this on to Atheists.

      September 22, 2011 at 6:31 am |
  11. Mathilda

    As always. The religious(Christians) always rescue and save the humanity and build them up.

    September 21, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      blah blah blah blah....Not at all Ms Delusional!! I have stated it before and will state it again, there are a great number of charitable organizations out there that are secular. UNICEF, Doctor's Without Borders are just two of them...stop putting your money in to the church and put it where it benefits real people; stop talking to walls or the air and do something useful with those hands (outside of typing here and making yourself look like more of a nut case with every post). If your hell really exists you will be enjoying some good hot times with your satan!

      September 22, 2011 at 6:36 am |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Mathilda..and when you have converted all the others , Atheists will be still be there to help you climb up and reach the level of understanding that has so far eluded you.

      September 22, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • greenstar20

      Hello; I would just like to know why the largest rulers of all time were christians who have killed, invaded, and molested millions of people. In addition to that, can you explain to me why christians ethnically cleansed 12,000 muslim men and boys in bosnia during the civil war their ? Is that part of the liberation process? I am not arguing with you, i just want to become educated as to how you are helping by slaughtering innocent people ....

      September 25, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  12. charles in charge

    Whatever happened to the eagle that was taken into custody for spying in Iran. If you believe in any religion, It's easy to dupe you into believing anything. I am willing to bet the saying "ignorance is bless" comes from non-believers around radical religious folks..

    September 21, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  13. THE BROWN NOTE

    if they banned all these useless religions then this kind of trash would happen far less

    September 21, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • Terry

      I've been reading your posts 'cause they're pretty entertaining. Asinine, but entertaining. What a fool you are.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • THE BROWN NOTE

      takes one to recognize one

      unfortunately you are too immersed in self righteousness to see past the facade

      enjoy making assumptions

      you know what they say about that

      then again you dont or else you wouldnt be making them

      September 22, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • Mike

      @ brown note
      There you go again making assumtions. Lol your a riot lol

      September 22, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  14. kimsland

    Yes, sometimes you must send fools to speak with fools minds.
    But I wouldn't trust anyone who said they were religious ever.

    September 21, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Evan

      "I wouldn't trust anyone who said they were religious ever"

      Isn't that quite a narrow-minded, condescending statement? I thought Atheists were supposed to be open-minded, caring people? I guess not.

      September 21, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @Evan You guys have HeavenSent, we have kimsland. What are you going to do?

      September 21, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Answer

      "I wouldn't trust anyone who said they were religious ever."

      What kimsland has implied is correct. Religion is simply a mental poison. Who would trust someone to give you poison and call that being friendly? You have to be close-minded, not just narrow-minded on this position regarding religion.

      If in real life some idiot offers you to drink a poisonous substance it is utterly stupid to accept it. Don't preach your mind poison to people! If you expect them NOT to be offended by your lies then you might as well drink real poison along with whatever religious poison you have consumed.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • Awkward Situations

      The problem is that most of the followers sincerely think they're giving you honey, not poison. I can't say the same for the leaders of the flock – they are definitely aware of the potency and pharmacokinetics of the poison they accept cash money for.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • Mike

      @kimsland
      hmm, that's funny, because I've found christians to be the most trust worthy (although kinda uptight) over anyone else I've ever met. But I gotta say some of the "christians" were quite bad. What I'm tryin to say is, if you wanna judge someone (and it seems like you enjoy doing so) at least get to know them first, before you go runnin your mouth.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • THE BROWN NOTE

      narrow minded are people who are stupid enough to believe in god

      condescending are those who believe they are above everyone else and think that they are going to heaven because they are free and clear of all guilt

      how about paying for your crimes instead of pretending some mythological being washed them all away with its spit or whatever

      September 22, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • THE BROWN NOTE

      hey mike atheists are free to judge whoever they please

      we arent living in fear of some angry and vengeful god

      unlike you

      so we will judge as we see fit

      its nice not living in fear

      christians are idiots

      September 22, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • tallulah13

      I find that actions speak louder than words, and religion has very little to do with a person's character.

      September 22, 2011 at 1:29 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      So nice to see your posts Kim...Unfortunately I doubt the christians appreciate them... keep up the good battle, we will win eventually :-)

      September 22, 2011 at 6:38 am |
    • John Richardson

      @Answer You're metaphor os over the top even as a metaphor. It's easy enough to hear religious words and not be affected by them.

      As for trustworthiness, I've known trustworthy and untrustworthy people of various beliefs and philosophies.

      September 22, 2011 at 8:19 am |
    • John Richardson

      I don't know why otherwise decent, reasonable people cling to things like Islam and Christianity. But the refusal of some non-believers to see any difference between these interfaith sorts of religious people vs the vicious fundamentalists of various sects is disconcerting.

      September 22, 2011 at 8:33 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.